Ok, so in regards to Senate Minority Leader Mitch "Yurdle the Turtle" McConnell (R), I keep hearing people go back and forth about whether or not McConnell is safe or in danger of a Tea Party uprising. So I'm going to give a crack at having definite answer on that question. First lets look at what each news source is saying about McConnell and the Tea Party. markhanna wrote diary back in November highlighting four reasons why McConnell is safe for re-election and you should give it a read:
But I'd like to revisit this question about how vulnerable McConnell is, especially in his own primary. On the surface, it looks like McConnell's doing everything right to save his ass but the great thing about the Tea Party is they're so idiotically spontaneous that everything could change quickly. First lets looking at McConnell's most recent polling. There have been three polls, one with favorable results for McConnell, one that's not so favorable for McConnell and one that is exactly the same. First to the poll that might discourage you from thinking that McConnell is in trouble:
Facing re-election in two years, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has a 51 percent job approval rating among Kentuckians in the latest Courier-Journal Bluegrass Poll.
But 42 percent disapprove of the performance of Mitch McConnell, who is one of the most visible Republican critics of President Barack Obama.
The poll of 606 likely voters was conducted Sept. 11-13 by SurveyUSA. Seventy-six percent of respondents answered a recorded questionnaire on their home phones, while 24 percent, who were pre-screened on cellphones, replied to written surveys sent to them on the Internet. - Louisville Courier-Journal, 9/16/12
Now if we remember from this past election cycle, SurveyUSA turned out to be one of the least accurate polls of the election year so take this poll with a grain of salt if you will. Plus it was conducted back in September. Now lets look at the poll PPP conducted in December:
Mitch McConnell is the most unpopular Senator in the country. Only 37% of Kentucky voters approve of him to 55% disapprove. Both in terms of raw disapproval (55%) and net approval (-18) McConnell has the worst numbers of any of his peers, taking that mantle from Nebraska's Ben Nelson. McConnell is predictably very unpopular with Democrats (23/73). But his numbers are almost as bad with independents (33/58) and even with Republicans he's well below the 70-80% approval range you would usually expect for a Senator within their own party (59/28). - PPP, 12/11/12
My favorite part of PPP's poll is when they tested McConnell against the Democrats mentioned in this poll, the one who comes the closest to being a competitive challenger is actress, activist and Kentucky native, Ashley Judd who trails McConnell by four points. Of course McConnell tried to discredit PPP's poll and decided to have his campaign go out into the field and guess who they found trailing behind Mitch by 4 points? You guessed it:
Now here's the kicker, McConnell's poll shows him with a high approval rating but still only leads Judd by four:
The finding mirrors a recent poll conducted by Democratic automated pollster Public Policy Polling. That poll showed the same head-to-head, with McConnell at 47 percent and Judd at 43 percent, but had McConnell with a very high disapproval rating — 55 percent.
In contrast to the PPP poll, McConnell’s poll, from pollster Jan van Lohuizen, shows the senator with a solid 51 percent approval rating and just 40 percent disapproving. - Washington Post, 12/20/12
You know what's really funny about McConnell's polling? It shows that even though people like him he's still has to explain to them why Ashley Judd would be the wrong choice for Senate. Someone with that high of an approval rating shouldn't have to explain to the voters why not to vote for his opposition. Realistically, incumbents with shitty approval ratings are the ones who have to explain to the voters this early on why not to vote for Judd. So McConnell's scared. He's knows both sides are pissed and can feel a challenge coming from both the Democrats and the Tea Party, it's just a matter of which side has the more appealing candidates. I don't think Kentucky would elect another Rand Paul, I think they would elect someone much worse. Imagine if Jim Bunning and Michelle Bachmann had a baby. Ok now that you're done puking, please keep reading.
But polling shouldn't be the only factor that determines how vulnerable McConnell is in the election. Lets look at what each side has to offer. First there's the Tea Party. We've all know the teabaggers don't like him McConnell. Hell, some of them just plain hate Mitch McConnell. But these people will never, ever vote Democrat. They'd rather eat shit and die. But are they willing to get rid of McConnell and put this seat in jeopardy? That's what we need to determine:
The primary action in 2014 might not all be on the Democratic side. Among Republican primary voters only 50% say they want McConnell to be their nominee against next time, while 35% would prefer a generic 'more conservative' candidate. - PPP, 12/11/12
The Democrats are most likely to have a big bench but the GOP primary is where the real action could be. But whoever this generic "more conservative" candidate will need to have name recognition and reliable fundraising to help him unseat McConnell. Or at least have the same type of Rand Paul enthusiasm mixed with the Jesus freak mentality of Rick Santorum in order to beat McConnell. Kentucky teabaggers need their Marco Rubio, young and charaismatic who can speak elegantly and passionately but I just don't know who that teabagger is. Only someone like Rand Paul could. And Rand Paul knows that's a bad idea because McConell saved his ass after winning the GOP primary in 2010 and went on a media whoring, bat shit frenzy:
Matt Taibbi once called Rand Paul the George W. Bush of the Tea Party Movement. I don't know who should be more offended by that comment. Teabaggers or George W. Bush. Like Bush, Paul is an idiot who can't keep his mouth shut. His die hard supporters know that and a good chunk of them have still stayed with him even when he's had to kiss McConnell's ass and McConnell was the one who brought Rand Paul into the Kentucky Republican Establishment. Paul would be risking a lot if he chose to endorse a teabagger to challenge McConnell. But Paul also has the greatest gain in the game. He'll become Senior Senator of Kentucky. McConnell's seniority, however, is an asset to his re-election campaign because he has a lot of influence to bring in federal funding for Kentucky, especially in terms of farm subsidies. Lets not forget that the Keebler Elf said this during the 2010 primary:
In a May 10 appearance on Kentucky Educational Television with other Republican primary candidates, Paul said he was not in favor of agricultural subsidies.
“I don’t think federal subsidies of agriculture are a good idea,” he said. - Bluegrass Politics, 6/30/10
Wow, way to introduce yourself to the voters after winning the primary there, Rand:
Paul's libertarian coming-out party was such a catastrophe — the three gaffes came within days of each other — that he immediately jumped into the protective arms of Mitch McConnell and the Republican Party.
"I think he's said quite enough for the time being in terms of national press coverage," McConnell said, explaining why Paul had been prevailed upon by the party to cancel an appearance on Meet the Press. Some news outlets reported that Paul canceled the appearance after a call from Karl Rove to Adams, who concedes that he did speak with Rove around that time. - Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone, 9/28/10
McConnell knows Paul isn't ready to fill in his spot in the Republican Kentucky establishment. Paul, who bashed McConnell for bailing out the banks to win the primary had to be bailed out by the very man he attacked because Paul couldn't keep his mouth shut. Yet Paul may want McConnell's establishment to further push the Tea Party/Liberty Movement's agenda. Paul has a lot at stake with McConnell's primary concerns. And Paul knows he can't ask McConnell is he can sit out this campaign. He owes McConnell too much to disobey McConnell's orders. McConnell says jump, Paul says, "how high?":
But McConnell is very unlikely to suffer the same fate of his former Senate colleagues, Richard Lugar and Bob Bennett. He's probably not going to even sweat a primary this time around. Indeed, McConnell's tireless work protecting his conservative flank back home played an underappreciated role in allowing him to cut a fiscal-cliff compromise with Vice President Joe Biden that's earned him sharp criticism from the Right.
For all the tea party's skepticism, McConnell, elected in 1984 and Republican leader since 2007, has worked overtime over the last year to shore up weaknesses with the conservative base. He hired Ron Paul's campaign manager, Jesse Benton, to manage his reelection last September, months before the November election. His productive relationship with Paul ensures that any potential primary challenger wouldn't have the tea party favorite's support — a near-fatal blow from the outset of any challenger's campaign. His status as the top-ranking Republican in the Senate still carries currency among voters at home, who recognize that his clout brings money back to an economically struggling state. Meanwhile, McConnell has banked nearly $6.8 million in cash on hand for his reelection — an imposing amount that's scaring off challengers, both Republican and Democratic.
"I think he's playing it smart. The best way to not get beat by someone sneaking up on you is to not get snuck up on. Mitch McConnell's smart enough to not let that happen," says Phil Moffett, who, as a tea party candidate, finished second in the GOP primary for Kentucky governor in 2011. - National Journal, 1/4/13
But the Tea Party doesn't necessarily need Rand Paul to save McConnell from the Tea Party, especially with how upset they are with McConnell's vote over the recent fiscal cliff deal:
Kentucky Tea Party leaders are voicing frustration with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell over his role in forging a bill that averted the fiscal cliff, and are encouraging a primary challenge in his re-election bid.
Louisville Tea Party President Sarah Durand says rank and file members were already displeased with McConnell’s record on fiscal issues, and are furious over the latest development.
"When he negotiates a bill that gets people like John Yarmuth to support it, but not people like Sen. Rand Paul and Congressman Thomas Massie, it kind of makes Republicans wonder whose side are you on? Right now the conservatives in Kentucky are talking about the fiscal problems that we have and the fact that Sen. McConnell’s not wiling to do anything to solve those is certainly going to be a problem for his re-election” she says. - WFPL News, 89.3, 1/3/13
Rand Paul's 2010 campaign manager also agrees that McConnell should be scared of the Tea Party:
The growing frustration with McConnell among tea party leaders may have tipped over, however.
David Adams is chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus. He says McConnell should be concerned with a primary challenge as a result.
"Unfortunately Sen. McConnell is pushing everybody who would work against him to work against him all the harder. And I regret that," says Adams, who told WFPL he's spoken with potential GOP challengers who could take on McConnell in 2014. "I wish we were talking in terms of fighting the Democrats and the big spending people on terms where we can win." - WFPL News, 89.3, 1/3/13
Establishment Republicans and traditional conservatives have come to McConnell's defense for his decision to strike a deal with Vice President Biden but the Kentucky Tea Party is not buying it:
But for Kentucky tea party activists, the fiscal cliff was a missed opportunity and many are doubtful that McConnell can get an effective deal during debt ceiling talks.
"If this is the best deal he could get then that's sort of sad," says Northern Kentucky Tea Party President Larry Robinson. "We want to work with Mitch and appreciate him reaching out. But unless he has something up his sleeve that can seriously stop the spending then he's sending the wrong signal to the conservative Tea Party people. And I would like to see other people put their names in the hat and see who is out there who is available to take on this job." - WFPL News, 89.3, 1/3/13
Plus some Kentucky Tea Party leaders have been out looking for McConnell's ideal challenger since the deal was reached:
"Many people here have watched Mitch McConnell's voting record and are dissatisfied with what they've seen," said Eric Wilson, executive director of the Kentucky 9/12 project, a Tea Party group in McConnell's home state. "There are some potential candidates working in the background and doing the right thing" including visiting Kentucky's conservatives to gauge support.
Wilson declined to divulge names, citing McConnell's fundraising prowess that allowed him to amass almost $19 million for his 2008 re-election bid. McConnell could not be reach for comment.
"Anyone who sticks their neck out now will get their head cut off," he added. "But there are definitely people here with real potential." - Reuters, 1/2/13
I admit it's hard to say if the Tea Party is dead serious about recruiting a strong primary challenger or if they're bluffing to intimidate McConnell. But McConnell has made such an ass of himself as Minority Leader that it's understandable why they would want to replace him, especially since McConnell really has no leverage in trying to get tax increases off the table in upcoming debt ceiling talks:
“The tax issue is finished, over, completed,” the Senate minority leader said on ABC’s “This Week.” President Obama got his rate hike in last week’s “fiscal cliff” deal. Spending cuts must be the agenda from here. McConnell offered variations on this theme last week, but it was not clear then if he was just ruling out increasing nominal tax rates further, perhaps leaving room for raising more federal revenue through eliminating certain deductions and inefficiencies in the tax code. So George Stephanopoulos pressed McConnell. “You will not accept any new revenues in any new deal?” the host asked. “Yeah, absolutely,” McConnell replied.
“Now that we have resolved the revenue issue,” McConnell also said on Sunday’s “Face the Nation,” “tax reform ought to be revenue-neutral.”
Except “the revenue issue” is far from resolved. The fiscal cliff deal struck last week will raise a mere $620 billion over 10 years. That’s less than the federal deficit projected for any single year over the next decade. It’s also about $2 trillion less revenue than the bipartisan Bowles-Simpson commission proposed in its deficit-closing plan. To be sure, Congress must curb projected growth in entitlement spending. McConnell has every reason to insist that be on the table in any grand budget negotiation. But ruling out any additional revenue from here on would result in a budget reckoning that is either much too small or very unbalanced in favor of spending cuts. - Washington Post, 1/7/13
McConnell claims Republicans have the upper hand in the next deal by demanding only cuts and no more tax increases, but again, that's horse shit and McConnell looks pretty stupid right now:
“It's a shame that we have to use whatever leverage we have in Congress to get the president to deal with” overspending, McConnell said on Meet the Press. On Face the Nation, he was asked whether he’d support House Speaker John Boehner’s demand for $1 in spending cuts for every $1 in debt-limit increase. McConnell retreated to the same timid language: “We have to use whatever leverage we have. And there are some examples of leverage coming along. The debt ceiling is one of them that hopefully would get the president engaged.” Whatever leverage we have? Hopefully? Engaged? That isn’t how you talk when you have leverage. It’s how you talk when you know your leverage is fake. Republicans don't have enough members willing to tank our credit rating or shut down the government. They know it would be too painful. - Slate, 1/7/13
So the Tea Party at this point can see that McConnell is powerless and incompetent. Even if the anti-tax king Grover Norquist did endorse the fiscal cliff deal, it's not enough to calm the teabaggers down. But if the Tea Party doesn't find a challenger crazy enough to take on McConnell, it's an empty threat. The only big name Kentucky teabagger that comes to mind is Congressman Thomas Massie (R. KY-4):
It makes sense that Massie would be the teabaggers dream candidate. He's a young, energetic weirdo who defeated an establishment incumbent by a large margin in the race for Judge Executive of Lewis County in 2010. He then went on to easily win his congressional race in 2012. He is an ardent supporter of Rand Paul campaigned for him heavily in 2010. And of course, Massie is a bat shit gun enthusiast who Republicans from both factions would love:
Kentucky Congressman Thomas Massie has introduced a bill to repeal the federal Gun-Free School Zones Act, a move that would allow people to bring firearms into the nation’s schools.
Massie, R-4th District, and Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, introduced similar measures on the first day of the new Congress — and at the same time Democrats unveiled eight other bills to tighten the nation’s gun regulation in the wake of the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary massacre.
The Gun-Free School Zones Act states that it is “unlawful for any individual knowingly to possess a firearm at a place that the individual knows, or has reasonable cause to believe is a school zone.” But Massie argued that the zones are “ineffective.’
“They make people less safe by inviting criminals into target-rich, no-risk environments,” Massie said in a statement. “Gun free zones prevent law-abiding citizens from protecting themselves, and create vulnerable populations that are targeted by criminals.” - Louisville Courier-Journal, 1/4/13
But will Rand repay the favor if Massie decides to challenge McConnell or will he stay loyal to the man who bailed him out in 2010? But even if Massie doesn't get Rand's blessing, he always has this guy to count of for fundraising:
He also secretly knows that someone like Ashley Judd could be a real challenge for him despite her outspoken views on mountain top removal coal mining, hence why he has to remind the voters about this. But McConnell intimidating tactics may not be enough to talk Judd out of running:
"I honestly would not count her out," says Daniel G. Stroup, a professor of government and law at Centre College in Danville, Ky. "I think she has qualifications other than being an actress which would speak on her behalf."
A graduate of the University of Kentucky, where Judd can often be seen in the stands during basketball games, she also earned a master's degree from Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, and has become an international activist on women's issues and AIDS prevention.
Judd is married to former NASCAR driver Dario Franchitti, now an IndyCar racer and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner. She splits her time between a farm in Tennessee and a home in her husband's native Scotland. - NPR, 12/5/12
McConnell knows she's a real threat but is trying to play it off cool for the camera:
“Before I let you go, you talked about your reelection next year,” Gregory said. “There’s talk that Ashley Judd, the actress, might indeed try to challenge you for your Senate seat. I know you’ve said you’re a fan of her movies. Do you actually think she’d be a formidable opponent if it comes to that?”
McConnell responded: “Look, the election’s going to occur in 2014. In the meantime I’ve got my hands full trying to deal with all the issues that we’ve been discussing here this morning. We’ll worry about the election in 2014.”
Despite McConnell’s reticence about saying much about Judd other than giving her thumbs-up on her movies, the senator’s campaign has lost no time talking the pulses of Kentucky voters on the actress. - Louisville Courier-Journal, 1/7/13
But the fact that McConnell had to do his own polling against Judd, which resulted in identical numbers and had to explain to voters why Judd is wrong for the Senate shows that he's scared of her and that voters in Kentucky are flirting with the idea of giving Judd a shot. Now I've heard a lot about how big the Democratic bench is in Kentucky and I don't doubt that but many of them are more focused on succeeding Governor Steve Beshar (D. KY) and PPP gives a pretty good reason why big name local Democrats are more fixated on the Governor's race:
Steve Beshear is the most popular of the state's politicians with a 51/34 approval rating. Despite Beshear's popularity voters in the state say they would generally prefer a Republican than a Democrat to be their next Governor, 42/39. - PPP, 12/11/12
For Kentucky Democrats, holding onto the Governorship is more important than trying to unseat McConnell. Plus Republicans may not like McConnell but they'll vote for him. But this only strengthens the case for a Judd candidacy in my opinion. Sure there won't be pro-coal Democrats who are crazy about Judd's candidacy but Judd would motivate more liberal Democrats and young voters to come out to the polls:
Ashley Judd is the clear choice of Democratic primary voters to be their candidate in 2014. 29% say she would be the first pick, followed by Abramson at 16%, Conway at 15%, Grimes and Yarmuth at 9%, Fischer at 5%, Edelen at 2%, and Barzun at less than 1%. Judd is a particularly popular choice among young voters and those describing themselves as 'very liberal.' - Public Policy Polling, 12/11/12
Plus lets say someone like Massie ends up beating McConnell in the primary, he would need to also win over conservative Democrats in the state in order to secure wis victory. Paul struggled with this for a while in 2010 until Jack Conway's Aqua Buddha ad backfired on him, creating sympathy for Paul.
Plus Judd wouldn't have to worry about fundraising. Hell, she could probably out raise McConnell. Judd really has nothing to lose with her candidacy. She's a big risk but with a big reward, especially for the environment:
"She has not just been the actress who is supporting the cause of the day and gets out on TV by taking a political stance," says Stroup. "It's an informed stand. ... I'm just not sure that it's going to be helpful publicity in Kentucky." - NPR, 12/5/12
But if there's anyone who is the biggest supporter of Judd's candidacy, it's Congressman John Yarmuth (D. KY-3):
"She is doing all the things that a serious candidate exploring a race should do," Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) told POLITICO after speaking with her. "I think there are a lot of people, and I was one of them, who wanted to let her know that her candidacy would be an exciting prospect for us. That's what I wanted her to know. A lot of the labor unions, they were telling me that too." - Reader Supported News, 12/13/12
I like Yamuth's confidence in Judd but Kentucky Democrats are still on the fence about her candidacy:
"She's got tremendous name recognition, and she's going to be able to raise the funds she'd need to run against somebody like Sen. McConnell," said Dan Logsdon, chairman of the Kentucky Democratic Party. "But she also has got some issues with regard to certain stances she's taken regarding coal that the Republicans will certainly try to exploit. Her answer to that, I think, would be frankly that she was talking about coal company practices, not necessarily coal or coal miners.
"But that's a tough issue to finesse in Kentucky," Logsdon said. - Reader Supported News, 12/13/12
But Yarmuth doesn't sound too worried about the coal issue:
While Yarmuth acknowledged that her position on mountaintop mining would be a "problem in some ways" and generate "emotional opposition," he said it "would also generate some very positive support," saying it would be a net-plus.
"All I know is she clearly is excited at the prospect of doing it," he said, calling her "very, very knowledgeable on public policy issues." - Reader Supported News, 12/13/12
Rand Paul on the other hand sounds scared of her being real threat and unlike McConnell, has made his attacks on Judd way more vocal:
"She's way damn too liberal for our country, for our state," Paul said. "She hates our biggest industry, which is coal. So, I say, good luck bringing the 'I hate coal' message to Kentucky." - NPR, 12/5/12
So in conclusion, is McConnell in danger of losing his seat? Absolutely but it all depends on who the Tea Party and the Democrats recruit. A Judd vs. Massie race would be very interesting to watch. A lot of money would be coming into this race whether it's Judd versus McConnell or Judd versus Massie. In a state like Kentucky, it's hard to say who would be the clear winner between the Hollywood liberal and true blue teabagger. But at least Judd would give McConnell a run for his money and wouldn't go down without a fight. But even if Judd isn't the nominee, Democrats could still have a shot at this race but it depends on what happens to McConnell in the primary. If he survives, he could still be the victor but he would be going into the general election badly bruised. The Tea Party hasn't learned it's lesson from the likes of Sharron Angle, Christine O'Donnell, Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock. If the GOP candidate is Massie, the Democrats have a much better shot at winning this race. I have a feeling Democrats learned their lesson from the 2010 election which is to not go after a tea bagger's character, hit him on the issues. Are Kentucky Republicans ready for two Rand Pauls? I doubt it because McConnell and Paul have created this public image of both establishment and Tea Party Republicans uniting in their hatred towards President Obama. But with the right Democrat, lets say it's someone like Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer or Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, Democrats could defeat Massie and his Tea Party base. This race is a dilemma for both parties but it's clear Republicans have more to lose here. McConnell may not be liked but he holds a lot of power in the Senate and Republicans need to ask themselves if they hate McConnell so much that they're willing to give someone like Rand Paul and his anti-farm subsidies views a shot at being the senior Senator from Kentucky. Judging how the Tea Party is feeling about McConnell's handling of the fiscal cliff deal, it sounds like a risk they are willing to take.